From Rice Cakes to Cupcakes: A Bikini Competitor's Journey to Food Freedom

I've said it before, and I will say it again: fitness and nutrition should not make you miserable.

I am NOT against clean eating. I'm NOT against tracking macros. I'm NOT against losing fat or wanting to improve your physique. I'm NOT against competing in fitness competitions.

What I AM against is when any of these things begin to take over your life and CONSUME you.
What I'm against is when it gets to the point where your eating and training adds MORE stress to your life, rather than enhancing your life.
What I'm against is being a slave to food and workouts.
What I'm against is punishing yourself for eating "bad", or feeling guilt over having a piece of cake at a birthday party.
What I'm against is when your abs, or your muscles, or your weight, or your body fat percentage, or the way you eat, or how much you can lift becomes where your find your identity and fulfillment.

It's because I've been there myself that I feel so passionate about helping others realize that there is MORE TO LIFE. Fitness is and always will be a big part of my life; it's just something that I LOVE. But there is a difference between wanting to be fit and strong and healthy and being obsessed and consumed by it. What I want to show is that you absolutely CAN enjoy life, not stress and obsess about training and nutrition, and eat LOTS of yummy foods, all the while still reaching your goals AND having the physique you desire.

As I've mentioned before, I frequently receive E-mails and Facebook messages from women asking me for advice, or just thanking me for the things I post about finding balance when it comes to fitness and nutrition. One such person contacted me a few years ago because she found my blog and related to my story. I can't tell you how many women have contacted me over the years asking for advice, and I'm always happy to help and to respond. Usually they thank me for the response, and that's that. But for some reason, Kristen and I just clicked, and we have since then become good friends and still talk to this day.

In the past few years, I've learned about her story and her history with competing, her struggles and issues with food and "clean" eating, and I asked if she would like to share some of that with my blog readers. I thought it would be helpful to others who have been through or are currently going through a similar situation, to show that you CAN find balance, and that you CAN find freedom.

Here is Kristen's story:

I first became interested in fitness when I saw Alicia Marie on the cover of Oxygen magazine. I was amazed at her sculpted arms and chiseled abs and decided right then and there that I wanted to achieve that physique. 

Even at 18, I had a body that resembled a 12 year old boy with scrawny arms and legs and no hips or butt, and I had been teased about my small stature on several occasions. I immediately bought a gym membership and followed the workouts that were posted in Oxygen magazine religiously. 

Not too long after I started working out did I receive several compliments from other gym goers on how good I looked. I was even told that I should compete in bodybuilding. At the time I had no clue what competing entailed or what these competitors even looked like, so I did my research and fell in love with the idea of stepping on stage in a sparkly bikini and flexing my hard earned muscles. 

However, I still thought I looked so small compared to these girls! And it was then that I started my first “bulk.” I successfully gained 10 pounds in the matter of three months. I had definitely put on a lot of muscle, but also some fat as well, although I didn’t view myself as fat at all since I had only received positive comments thus far. I felt ready to compete! 

I contacted the guy who ran a local NPC bodybuilding competition near me and made an appointment to meet with him. During the meeting he said I looked incredible, and after assessing my physique, determined that I should start out in the bikini division. 

My first competition turned out great! I had an amazing time and placed third. The judges said that I looked incredible, and I was immediately hooked and decided to do another competition the weekend after. 

It was at that competition that my self-image turned for the worst. I received positive feedback from these judges as well about my physique, except for one. He said I carried way too much fat in my glutes and thighs. Even though the majority of the judges said I looked good, that negative comment was what stuck with me. 

From that point on my life revolved around clean eating and training. My diet consisted of chicken, turkey, beef, eggs and egg whites, whey protein, oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, nuts, olive oil, peanut butter, fruits, and veggies. And that was it. Everything was weighed and measured and logged into My Fitness Pal. I refused to eat out at restaurants and packed my food in Tupperware to family events. I lifted 6 days a week and did conditioning every day, sometimes twice a day if the number on the scale was not where I wanted it to be. 

I was still not satisfied with my progress and decided to hire a coach, who got me more shredded than I could ever imagine. My diet became even more limited, with grapefruit being my only fruit source. At 4 weeks out my whey protein and peanut butter were cut and I subsisted on 1000 calories a day in addition to my intense training. I was extremely tired and hungry all the time, but being lean was more important to me than my health. Plus, isn’t this what it took? Everything I had read even told me that it is normal to feel this way during contest prep. 

No matter how much I wanted to quit I stuck to my diet and training. The most I ever “cheated” was after eating my rice cake, eating the crumbs that were left at the bottom of the package and crying hysterically because I thought I was a failure for eating more than my allotted rice cake. The ironic thing was, I placed third in that competition as well. 
After the final judging, I was craving sugar like crazy but settled for an apple until the competition was over and I could go out to eat. I immediately felt nauseous because my body was not used to the sugar and I ended up going straight home. It took a while for my body to get used to eating a normal amount again as well as getting my strength to return, yet competing had become such a huge part of my life that I didn’t know any other way to live. I was so used to following a meal plan and strict training program. 

I decided I wanted to start prepping for another competition. My former coach no longer worked at my gym, but one of the other members at my gym offered to be my coach. However, the relationship turned into more than a coach/client one. We ended up dating until he suddenly found someone he was more interested in. Needless to say he also no longer wanted to be my coach. 

Even though we only dated briefly I was devastated. While many girls handle a broken heart by drowning their sorrows in a carton of Ben and Jerrys, I used the gym as a means of coping. My usual one hour workouts turned into 4. I was addicted to sprinting until my legs burned and lifting until my muscles felt like they were going to explode. I felt the need to punish myself for not being “good enough” for that guy. 

One day when I was on Facebook, I came across an article that featured Lindsay, with a link to her blog. Her blog featured her workouts and what she ate, and I was intrigued. I didn’t understand how she could look so great while only lifting a few days a week and eating foods like cereal and ice cream! 

Even more importantly, she looked HAPPY. Whereas I, on the other hand, was miserable choking down tilapia and asparagus and spending all of my spare time in the gym. So I decided to reach out to her and soon enough, we became friends and were communicating on a regular basis. 

She helped me transition from working out 4 hours a day to 4 hours a week and slowly introduce foods into my diet that I hadn’t eaten in 3 years, such as bread and yogurt (and later on, cereal and ice cream). I cannot begin to thank her enough as to how much she has helped me these past 3 years. 

I actually look forward to going to the gym. I no longer dread my workouts, and sure, the workouts are challenging, but not near to the point where I feel like I am going to die! I also enjoy all of my meals and include way more variety than I ever imagined possible. I am now able to go out to eat and take days off from the gym. 
I am slowly learning that there is more to life than fitness. I am currently dating someone whose life does not revolve around meal prepping and lifting, and I admire him for this. He loves to travel and try new foods, and I look forward to learning more about life outside of the gym. 

I do still struggle with body image, but I am also slowly learning that being healthy is more important than having shredded abs. I hope that by sharing my story I can help others to come to these realizations as well.

I think it's so awesome that Kristen went from eating a very low carb, low calorie, super strict "clean eating" meal plan, to now eating bread, cereal, and many other previously "forbidden" foods. She now eats enough to fuel her heavy lifting and is no longer a slave to her food scale or MyFitnessPal. She is healthier, stronger, and much happier now, and I am just glad to have been able to help her in some way to reach this point. I'm so proud of her for how far she has come.

I truly hope that the days of coaches giving out cookie cutter, 1000 calorie meals plans consisting of egg whites, fish, asparagus, and grapefruit are over. If you are thinking about hiring a nutrition coach or doing a show, please do your research. If the meal plan looks like that, say "Thanks, but no thanks," and run far, far away. Losing fat and getting shredded is NOT worth damaging your health and/or ruining your relationship with food in the long run.


  1. Great post. I love the common sense and moderation. I think too many people get caught up going to extremes when it comes to their fitness.

    1. Yes, it is super common, and very sad when it comes to this point.


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